23-Month-Old: Your Headstrong Toddler


Your Headstrong Toddler

How time flies! At 23 months old your toddler is changing almost by the day. Look back over some photographs from just a few weeks or months ago, and you could be surprised by the differences. And that’s not all. Your child is getting more independent – and wilful – all the time.

Learn more about the milestones your little one might reach at around 23-month-old, how to handle toddler behaviour and what activities can help support your child’s development.

Toddler Development Milestones

Your toddler develops at his or her own, unique pace, but here are a few of the milestones that could be coming up (or already here) for your child at 23 months old:

Movement: Running and Jumping

Your toddler is probably a proficient walker already, but at 23 months old your child may also be getting better at running. Balance and coordination are also developing to the stage where your toddler may already, or soon, learn to jump with both feet off the floor at the same time. No matter how safe the environment you provide, sometimes these activities can lead to bumps, scrapes or tooth injuries.

With a little common sense and baby proofing, most injuries are likely to be minor, but still it might be a good idea to check that your baby first aid kit is stocked with essentials like sticking plasters and antiseptic cream.

Speech: Using Simple Phrases

You may hear your toddler utter a few simple sentences. Your child may also be using the right names for familiar people, body parts or objects. As with all the other milestones, language development is not set in stone, so be patient if your 23-month-old doesn’t talk as much as other children of a similar age.

Comprehension: Following Instructions

At 23 months old your toddler may understand some simple instructions like ‘bring me your cup’ or ‘hold my hand’. Besides helping your child learn new words and phrases, getting this new kind of positive response from your little one can be so rewarding.

Fine Motor Skills: Creating and Building

Your 23-month-old may enjoy scribbling, turning over containers to pour their contents out or even stacking blocks to make a tower – and having even more fun knocking it down afterwards. At some time soon – if it hasn’t happened already – your toddler will probably start holding crayons or coloured pencils ‘properly’ between the thumb and forefinger.

Social Development: Showing Emotions

The range of emotions your toddler expresses is likely to be getting more varied as you start to see a range of different feelings playing across your child’s features – such as amusement, joy, fear, sympathy, shyness, embarrassment, guilt, wonder.

How to Support Your Baby’s Development

There are lots of ways to encourage your 23-month-old’s development. Here are some ideas:

  • Encourage activities that use hand and finger skills. Help your 23-month-old get better at using those little hands and fingers with games like folding colourful paper together, putting blocks into the right-shaped holes, stacking blocks, creating shapes with modelling clay or getting stuck into some nice, messy finger painting.

  • Upgrade your toddler’s toybox. Your 23-year-old may still have a lot of baby toys and rattles in the toybox or cupboard. Teddy bears and other soft, cuddly toys are still needed and great for your little one to cuddle and give comfort, but alongside these your child also needs a few toddler toys. These could include trikes, trolleys, push-along rattles or balls to promote balance, toys with buttons, levers and bells to help understand cause and effect, as well as stacking and sorting toys, simple jigsaws and assembly toys to develop fine monitor skills.

  • Start a dressing-up box. Dressing up is like rocket fuel for your toddler’s imagination. If you’re handy with a needle and thread you could make – or otherwise buy or borrow – costumes of your child’s favourite fairy tale, story or cartoon characters. Keep them in a special box that your toddler can go to whenever he or she is in the mood for a little role playing. A dressing up box or basket doesn’t have to only contain full costumes. Anything can go in – sometimes just a hat, a pair of boots or set of fairy wings can be enough to transport your child into a world of make-believe. To be safe, make sure any fancy dress costumes or accessories don’t include any long cords, ribbons, small detachable buttons or anything else that might pose a strangulation or choking risk.

  • Set consistent boundaries. Your toddler is likely to act on impulse, which is why setting boundaries is important. Explain your expectations as clearly as you can and keep the emphasis on praising your 23-year-old’s good behaviour rather than punishing naughtiness. When setting boundaries, keep in mind that it’s important to have realistic expectations. At this age, your toddler may not understand or be able to follow complex instructions and hasn’t yet mastered self-control, so you’ll probably find yourself explaining those boundaries over and over again. This stage of your toddler’s development is often known as the ‘terrible twos’. Yes, it can be challenging at times, but don’t let the name alarm you: This is also a magical time full of new discoveries.

  • Think about potty training. Have you noticed any signs of potty training readiness? These might include things like your toddler telling you if he or she has a wet or soiled nappy, having no wet nappies for a couple of hours during the day or fidgeting or hiding when needing to go. If you've spotted some of these signs, pick up some potty training tips and get any supplies you need, especially the potty itself or a toilet seat adapter.

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Mealtimes for Your 23-Month-Old Toddler

Your active toddler needs a variety of healthy foods to get through the day. Three meals and up to two healthy snacks a day is usually about right, although your child’s appetite may vary from one day to the next.

Offer your toddler foods from the four main food groups:

  • Starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta, bread and porridge.

  • Fruit and vegetables. At least five portions a day, which can include one small glass of unsweetened fruit juice with a main meal.

  • Protein. Meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses are all rich in protein.

  • Dairy or alternatives. Pasteurised whole milk and full-fat dairy products contain essential vitamins and nutrients for your growing child. In a dairy-free diet, unsweetened milk alternatives such as almond, oat or soya drink can be given as a substitute.

Handling a Fussy Eater

From time to time, you may feel a little stressed out trying to get your little one to eat his or her greens or try new foods. You might also become frustrated when your toddler stops wanting to eat something that was flavour of the month just a few days ago.

Here are a few tips to help you and your child get through the fussy eating stage:

  • Choose mealtimes wisely. Don’t wait until your toddler is overtired or too hungry to eat before starting a meal.

  • Eat together as a family. Your toddler likes to copy you and other family members. Sit down together at the table without distractions like the TV or phones. Give your 23-month-old the same foods you’re eating – chopped into bite-sized pieces if necessary – but don’t add extra salt to your child’s helping.

  • Avoid pushing food or meals. If your toddler refuses a certain food or even a whole meal, don’t make a big deal of it. Take the food away and try again another time.

  • Don’t bribe your child with food. It may be tempting to offer your child sweets or dessert in return for eating up all the spinach, but this can send out a message that sweets are good and other foods are bad. If you need a good incentive, a trip to the playground or a favourite after-meal game could work better.

  • Keep trying. It can take a while for your 23-year-old to get accustomed to some flavours, smells or textures, so offer a new food at least several times, waiting a while in between tries.

  • Offer a range of options. As you plan your family's meals, try and include a variety of foods or flavours and let your toddler pick and choose.

  • Get stuck in with finger foods. Food that your child can just pick up and eat – like toast soldiers for dipping or slices of fruit and veg – are not only fun; they also help your toddler develop better hand-eye coordination.

  • Experiment with how a food is cooked or presented. Sometimes just cooking or serving up a food your toddler doesn’t like is enough to add extra appeal. Uncooked cheese might be off the menu for now, but a comforting, melty slice of cheese on toast might just prove irresistible!

  • Start small. Offer little portions and show your appreciation if your toddler eats, even if it’s just a few mouthfuls.

How Much Sleep Does a 23-Month-Old Toddler Need

Your 23-month-old toddler needs approximately 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day. At this age, your 23-month-old may not be sleeping as much during the day as before – you may be down to one afternoon nap, although this does vary from child to child.

Transitioning to a Bed

Toddlers usually make the transition from a cot to a bed between 18 months and 3 years old, but it differs a lot from child to child so you’ll probably need to play it by ear. If your little one starts looking cramped or uncomfortable in the cot or starts trying to climb out, it might be time to think about making the transition. Check the cot’s user manual to make sure you’re still within any weight or size limits for use.

Here are some things to keep in mind when it’s time for your toddler to move into a ‘big kid’s’ bed:

  • It might be as simple as converting the cot. Some cots are designed so that one side can be removed to convert it into a toddler’s bed when the time comes. Check whether your cot has this option, and how to convert it, by reading the manufacturer’s guidelines.

  • Choose a bed designed for your toddler’s age. Make sure the bed your toddler moves into is suitable for his or her age, weight and/or size. A low bedframe will make it easier to climb in and out of and reduce the risk of injuries from falling out of bed.

  • Check that siderails or other attachments are safe. You may be considering using a siderail to stop your toddler falling out of bed. Some toddler beds may come with one fitted as standard. If you do use a siderail or any other equipment that attaches to your child’s bed, always check that it complies with the latest effective safety standards and follow all the manufacturer’s precautions and instructions.

  • Consider a baby gate. Your child may want to get out of bed and walk over to your room at night or wander around the house. To stay safe, you might like to install a baby gate that your toddler can’t scale.

  • Expect some sleep disruption. Any major changes to your toddler’s or family’s routine can affect sleep, and the transition from a cot to a bed could also be one such upheaval, even if your child is excited and keen to sleep in a ‘big’ bed. If your 23-month-old (or older child) is not sleeping as well after transitioning to a toddler bed, be patient and try some of these sleep training methods.

A Day in the Life of Your Toddler

Here’s what a regular day with your 23-month-old toddler might look like in your home:

Your Toddler’s Health: Common Bugs and Illnesses

Despite your best efforts to keep your little one healthy, at some point it's likely that your toddler will come down with a cold, earache or tummy trouble. Here are some common childhood illnesses and their symptoms, along with what you can do to help ease your child’s discomfort:

  • Sore throat. Throat pain or scratchiness is often caused by viruses such as the common cold or flu. In fact, a dry and sore throat may be a sign that a cold will start in the next day or two. The good news is that most sore throats clear up by themselves after a few days. Give your child plenty of fluids and the pain relief medicine recommended by your doctor. If the sore throat doesn’t get better after four days, see your child’s doctor. If your toddler has trouble swallowing fluids or breathing, call 999 or go straight to your local A&E for urgent treatment.

  • Ear infection. Painful ear infections are common among children. They often come after a cold or flu and may be accompanied by a high temperature or fever. Ear infections are usually caused by viruses, so antibiotics aren’t effective against them. In most cases the ear infection will clear up by itself in around three days. Temporary hearing loss is possible after an ear infection, but your child’s hearing will usually return fully within a few weeks. If hearing loss lasts longer than this, see a doctor for advice. Never put anything in your toddler’s ear, such an oil, drops or cotton buds unless your doctor tells you to.

  • Common cold. Sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, coughing and maybe a fever too – your toddler could have a cold. The common cold can be caused by any one of hundreds of different viruses. Your toddler hasn’t encountered many of these yet, so at this stage it’s usual to get as many as 8 to 10 colds a year. Your child will gradually build up immunity and get fewer colds as he or she gets older. It usually takes around a week for a cold to clear up, although sometimes the symptoms may last up to two weeks. In the meantime, you can ease the symptoms by making sure your child is comfortable, gets plenty of rest and drinks plenty of liquids. Ask your doctor about pain-relief medicine and saline drops to loosen dried mucus and unblock a stuffy nose.

  • Bronchiolitis. This common respiratory infection causes the breathing tubes in the lungs to swell, making it hard for infants to breathe. It is usually caused by a virus called the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can’t be treated with antibiotics. In most cases it’s mild and clears up by itself in a few weeks with a little TLC. If you notice signs of troubled breathing and/or other possible symptoms of bronchiolitis, like a runny nose, cough or high temperature, see your child’s doctor for a diagnosis and advice on the best treatment.

  • Urinary tract infection. Also known as a UTI, this infection can lead to discomfort in the tummy and bladder area, and it may cause pain or a burning sensation when peeing. Other symptoms in toddlers can include cloudy urine, more frequent peeing, especially at night, a high temperature, general poorliness and sometimes being sick. UTIs sometimes need to be treated with antibiotics and it’s important to rule out the possibility of a kidney infection, so if you notice any of these symptoms get them checked out by your child’s doctor straight away. You can help prevent UTIs by keeping your toddler’s nappy area clean and dry and always wiping from front to back during nappy changes or after trips to the potty.

  • Sinusitis. As you may guess from the name, this is an infection of the sinuses. Symptoms include pain, tenderness or swelling around the cheeks, eyes or forehead, a stuffy nose, green or yellow snot. Other telltale signs could be a high temperature, toothache or bad breath. Symptoms can last for more than 10 days and are similar to those of a cold, with a runny nose and a cough. Sinusitis is common after a cold or flu. It can clear up by itself, but sometimes treatment with antibiotics or other prescription medicine is needed. Make sure your little one gets plenty of rest and fluids. Manage pain and fever with the medicines recommended by your doctor. See a doctor if the symptoms are severe, if they don’t improve after a week or if the sinusitis keeps coming back.

Tummy Trouble and Diarrhoea

An occasional loose stool is not necessarily something to worry about; but if watery stools happen more often than usual, it could be diarrhoea.

The main causes of diarrhoea are:

  • Viruses. Diarrhoea in toddlers is often caused by viruses like rotavirus, which can cause watery diarrhoea in babies and toddlers. Most babies are offered a rotavirus vaccine in the first three months, but in rare cases it’s still possible to catch the virus. Even then, the symptoms are much milder than for an unvaccinated child.

  • Bacteria. If your child consumes food that's been contaminated with bacteria, food poisoning is a common result, and diarrhoea is a chief symptom of this illness. Food poisoning symptoms can also include feeling sick and vomiting, a high temperature and stomach cramps.

  • Food allergies. Your toddler may have a food allergy or be lactose intolerant. Watch out for other symptoms like vomiting, coughing, a rash, soreness or swelling. Talk to your health visitor or your child’s doctor if you suspect your toddler has a food allergy. Seek urgent medical attention if your child experiences any severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing.

  • Some medicines. Giving your child certain medicines like antibiotics can often lead to diarrhoea.

The main risk of diarrhoea is dehydration. Encourage your child to take plenty of sips of water to stay hydrated. Avoid giving fruit juices or fizzy drinks, which can make the diarrhoea worse. See a doctor or visit A&E immediately if you notice signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth, dark yellow pee or significantly fewer wet nappies than usual.

FAQs at a Glance

Depending on your toddler’s individual rate of development, at around 23 months old your child may be able to:

  • Run and jump

  • Scribble on paper

  • Grip a crayon or pencil with the thumb and forefinger when drawing

  • Stack blocks into towers

  • Pour things out of containers.

Your Life as a Parent: The Arrival of a New Sibling

If you’re pregnant, you may be wondering how the impending arrival of a new newborn baby is affecting your 23-month-old’s behaviour. It’s usual for your toddler to feel a little jealous as more of the family’s attention shifts towards getting ready for the new arrival.

As a result of feeling a little left out, your 23-month-old may misbehave or throw a tantrum to get a reaction from you – even a negative response could seem better to your toddler than the feeling of no longer being the centre of attention.

Help make things easier for your toddler with these ideas for how to prepare your first child for a sibling:

  • Don’t hide anything. Your toddler will be curious, so talk about the fact that a new baby is coming.

  • Keep your toddler in the loop. Ask your first child to help out suggesting baby names or nursery decoration ideas. Take him or her along to listen to your foetus’s heartbeat.

  • Look at baby pictures of your toddler together. This is a great way of exploring the subject of babies together and getting your older child interested in the new arrival.

  • Accept that there will probably be some jealousy. Occasional outbursts of resentment or jealousy are almost inevitable. Even without this new development, you’ve probably experienced a few tantrums and challenging behaviour already as your little one toddles ever closer to the ‘terrible twos’ phase of testing boundaries. It can be hard with a new baby to prepare for and look after; but setting aside some one-to-one time with your toddler as well can help reassure your child that you’re still his or her number-one fan.

  • Include your toddler as much as possible. Once your new arrival is here, encourage your toddler to get involved with your newborn. For example, big sister or brother can help with picking out clothes and dressing the new arrival, handing you a fresh nappy when it’s changing time or with bathing. However, do not leave your toddler alone with the infant. You might find that seeing you feeding your newborn triggers your older child’s jealousy, so it can be useful to make sure your toddler is occupied with a distracting game or activity before starting a feed.

Checklist for This Month

  • Start planning the second birthday party. Your toddler’s about to turn 2-years-old, so – if you haven’t already started – now is a good time to start planning the party. Check out these ideas to keep the birthday party fun and safe.

  • Ask about your toddler’s final health and development review. Your toddler’s last regular health and development review will usually be held between the age of 2 and 2-and-a-half. The review can take place at your home, a baby clinic, children’s centre or your toddler’s nursery school or playgroup if he or she is attending one. If possible, it’s best to go together with your partner. You’ll be sent a questionnaire to fill in before the appointment. Your health visitor can help if you’re uncertain how to answer any of the questions.

  • Check whether your car seat needs replacing or adjusting. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure your growing toddler’s car seat is still suitable. Some may need converting to accommodate a larger child, or it might be time to upgrade if your toddler is nearing the weight or height limits for your current seat. Keep in mind that safety experts advise keeping your child rear-facing for as long as possible.

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How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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